January 24, 2019
Tony Jarvis was a contrarian, often in ways that were worth paying attention to. One of them, or perhaps more than one, was manifest in his funeral last October. Tony was old enough to remember when funerals - Anglican ones at least - did not have eulogies, and when they were not “celebrations of life,” as is now so often the case whether in name only or reality, but rather were occasions of sober reflection and prayer.
His own funeral was hence a requiem mass, one where the congregation is bidden to pray for the departed, and his homilist was under strict instructions not to eulogize. In fact that preacher disobeyed, although providence - or perhaps Our Lady, Tony might have suggested - arranged for him to be unable to attend. While I have referred and will refer to Tony today, and while other remembrances have been and will be offered, you will I hope note that this is not a eulogy, but a sermon!
These choices didn’t just reflect Tony’s liturgical conservatism; they were a statement about death and life. In the eucharistic prayer of the requiem mass is this line: “to your faithful people Lord, life is changed, not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.” While people of many theological positions and none now have “celebrations of life,” their focus tends to be retrospective; Tony made the simple and confronting claim that his funeral was about the future, and that what he needed was for the Church militant and triumphant to pray for him, now.
This thought is not uncontroversial even for Anglicans, who had mostly eschewed prayer for the dead at the Reformation, and only returned to it - with characteristic lack of enthusiasm - in the last century and a half, as catholic principles reasserted themselves in the Anglican Communion. It was also true that the world dealt with new experiences of the scale of death, especially in war, that might well have shaken the foundations of neat Calvinist formulations about grace, election, and providence.
This I think is what Tony would have asked, not that he be remembered except before God, and not that we give thanks for a life past, without praying for his and our peace and joy in the future.
Of course Tony’s work here at Yale, as well as at Roxbury Latin before, was that of a teacher, as well as being for teachers in our case, and we have to remember him so. This raises a conundrum however; at Roxbury Latin particularly, he held together what for most people is a remarkable tension between his unapologetic Anglo-Catholic clerical identity and his leadership of an institution whose Anglican connections were as limited as they were ancient, and whose students were as likely to be Jewish, Catholic, or irreligious as Episcopalian.
There are those who manage such vocational combinations by benign compartmentalization - there is nothing inimical of course between them, but was Tony just a priest who happened to be a great educator, or conversely an incidentally-ordained teacher? Or was this something else, not a combination but a synthesis, a kind of priesthood and a form of pedagogy?
A number of the ancient theologians known as “fathers” of the Church, notably Clement of Alexandria, his compatriot Origen, and the great Augustine of Hippo, saw human existence itself as essentially a program of pedagogy, a curriculum provided by God to teach us our redemption. In this view our lives as we currently know them are not ends in themselves, but experiences of learning whose purpose is to fit us for another life.
Some of the same Christian teachers, and others since, also observed that life as we know it does not always seem to provide a complete curriculum, all the opportunities and experiences we need to learn how to live. Sometimes life is too short; sometimes there is insufficient love or wisdom or justice on offer to train the soul up in the way it should go. Thus they thought of death not so much as final graduation as promotion to another grade or level of education, where the experience of learning how to live and love adequately would continue with even greater effectiveness.
This of course was the core story, the basic narrative, underlying Tony’s work and Tony’s faith, up to and including his requiem. Tony was not a priest who just had a job as a headmaster, or a teacher who happened to be ordained; he understood not just that all priests are teachers, but more remarkably that all teachers are priests.
As headmaster, he was not distracted by the ubiquitous narratives of education as preparation for mere job-readiness or material wealth; education was the inculcation of virtue. And while this notion of the virtues has cross-cultural and perennial appeal, this was not about virtue for its own sake for Tony; the God of Jesus Christ was for him the source of all love and wisdom, and Christ the true teacher. Education was thus not preparation for employment, but preparation for eternity. And so every headmaster is indeed a priest, although some may serve other gods.
As we consider his life with gratitude, Tony would offer us I think both holy encouragement and discomfort concerning our own vocations too. Our work here in the seminary is not just an ecclesiastical version of the job-readiness narrative. Rather we believe we equip people for effective leadership in schools, as in Churches, not because they gain accreditation here, but because they are schooled for virtue here, and for heaven. And so our work of pedagogy is not something that can just be mapped onto the course of a life well lived, and hence worth eulogizing or celebrating purely in retrospect, but is a stage in the forming of human life for life with God, as is also the work for which we equip our students who will work in schools and other communities.
For Tony, School is out, but he would have assured us that in fact School has also just begun. As theologian Ben Myers puts it:
“Even the profoundest scholars are like children learning the alphabet; but one day we shall step through the doorway, and in that big bright classroom…we will finally learn to read.”